The powerful chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee says he won't support a bipartisan debt and spending package taking shape in the U.S. Senate because it would result in a more than $800 billion cut in defense spending over the next decade.
Of particular concern to Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., is that the plan envisions $80 billion in cuts in military entitlements, such as retired pay and health care, that would have to be approved within six months.
McKeon spelled out his objections in a July 20 memo sent to armed services committee members. "Based on what we have read, the proposal would result in $886 billion in security cuts over 10 years," McKeon said.
The plan drafted by the so-called "Gang of Six" that is taking shape in the Senate does not specifically order cuts of that size in the defense budget. Rather, it calls for $3.7 trillion in cuts over 10 years in federal spending, in two phases - a $500 billion cut to be approved in six months that the bipartisan negotiators call a "down payment" on savings, and then other cuts to come later.
McKeon said the "down payment" includes $80 billion in entitlement savings over 10 years that would have to be found in six months by the armed services committees.
The larger cuts in discretionary defense spending would occur later when the House and Senate budget committees come up with discretionary spending limits and enforcement mechanisms to keep spending under control. The agreement calls for national security and domestic spending to be cut almost equally. McKeon estimates the national security budget would be cut by $886 billion over 10 years, with 85 percent - about $753 billion - coming from within the U.S. Defense Department.
"It is our belief that this proposal raises serious implications for defense and would not allow us to perform our constitutional responsibility to provide for the safety and security of our country or keep faith with men and women in uniform," McKeon said.
McKeon's criticism of the Gang of Six proposal is based in large part on a House Budget Committee analysis of the Senate proposal, plus McKeon's own concerns that the military is a stretched and stressed force than cannot handle large cuts without great risk.
The Senate deal is not done, but President Obama appeared to be embracing the idea if it could lead to an end to a debt crisis that threatens to leave the U.S. unable to pay its bills beginning Aug. 2.
The Gang of Six includes Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Mark Warner of Virginia; and Republicans Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Coburn has just floated his own, more ambitious plan, which would reduce the deficit by $9 trillion over 10 years.